In end of era, Bay State Banner sold
Publisher Mel Miller decides, at 88, to pass the baton on Boston’s iconic Black-focused newspaper
BIG NEWS FROM the world of local news in Boston: After almost 60 years at the helm, Mel Miller has decided it’s time for a changing of the guard at the Bay State Banner, the venerable weekly focused on the city’s Black community that he has owned since its founding in 1965. The 88-year-old publisher sold the paper this week to two sons of Roxbury who have vowed to “preserve its role and create its future.”
The new owners are Ron Mitchell, a veteran television editor and videographer at WBZ-TV, who stepped down from his job at the station last week, and television documentary producer Andre Stark, whose work includes credits at WGBH. Their plans include expanding operations with separate print editions in other areas of New England, an ambitious undertaking at a time when many newspapers are in retreat.
The sale was finalized on Tuesday, according to a story on the historic handoff posted Wednesday morning on the Banner’s website with a photograph of Miller and the new owners. The terms of the sale were not disclosed.
“I’ve been looking for some time for someone to step up and take over the job,” Miller said in the Banner article. “I think the Banner is needed more than ever. Both Ron and Andre are from old Roxbury families with deep ties to the community. They know the people, know the streets, know the issues we face. I have every confidence they will carry on the great work we’ve done for close to 60 years.”
The paper’s founding dates to the high point of the US civil rights movement, which was no accident, Miller said in an interview with CommonWealth on Tuesday.
“Passage of the Civil Rights Act was a great inspiration to us,” he said, reflecting on the paper’s launch one year after the 1964 law was enacted. “For the first time, federal law outlawed discrimination in employment and public accommodations. If you just think about that, it really opens up a lot of opportunities for economic development. We said, boy, this is really going to make a change. We have to have a publication from the community that keeps people informed and motivates them along the line,” he said.
The story on the Banner sale said the paper was also intended to “fill a news void” created by the shuttering in the previous decade of the Guardian, the Boston-based newspaper founded in 1901 by famed Black journalist William Monroe Trotter.
Miller continued until the end of his run to also serve as the Banner’s editor and wrote a weekly editorial. His was a take-no-prisoners voice that wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, including often rebuffing some popular left-leaning positions of the day.
In last week’s issue, he slammed the call, pushed by progressive activists, for a return to an elected school committee in Boston. The headline of his editorial said such a move would be “disastrous.”
“I’ve had the militants come after me in a very vicious way,” Miller said in the interview of the anger he has sometimes stirred. “But guess what? I didn’t move.”
In the Banner article, Mitchell, who will serve as publisher and editor, said plans include gradually expanding beyond Boston to three other regions – north of Boston, Connecticut, and Rhode Island – with a separate print edition in all four areas, each with some unique content.
The new owners have recruited former Boston Globe reporter and WGBH editor Ken Cooper to serve as an editorial consultant overseeing the planned expansion, while Yawu Miller, the current Banner senior editor – and a nephew of Mel Miller – will continue managing the Boston edition.
Mitchell and Stark are taking the reins at a challenging time for newspapers, whose revenue model has been battered by online digital advertising. Miller ran into tough times in the recession of 2007 to 2009, staying afloat with the help of a $200,000 loan from an arm of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The loan generated some controversy, but was repaid in full.
The Banner article said debt and equity financing for the purchase came from Mill Cities Community Investment, a Black-run federally chartered community development financial institution run by Glynn Lloyd, the founder of City Fresh Foods.
The article said a notable example of the paper’s fearless journalism was a controversial headline, “Police Riot in Grove Hall,” which appeared above a 1967 story about Boston police officers storming a Roxbury welfare office and clubbing protesting welfare mothers.
“That story cemented the Banner’s reputation as a serious paper,” former state rep and historian Byron Rushing said in today’s article. “It took strong positions and stood up to the mainstream narrative. Not everyone always agreed with Mel Miller, but no one questioned his independence.”“I just told the truth,” said Miller. “That’s what we’ve always been about.”